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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  February 24, 2015 5:30pm-6:01pm PST

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on the broadcast tonight, disaster on the tracks. another commuter train plows into a vehicle in its path. tonight passengers critically injured and the fiery impact. out of control. this relentless record cold. when will it end? crippling conditions on the roads north to south. sudden explosionhatters a quiet neighborhood and blows a home to bits. a terrifying moment caught on camera. to the jury, closing arguments of the "american sniper" trial in texas. we're there live. and mystery in the sky. who was buzzing paris landmarks from the eiffel tower to the u.s. embassy with drones in the dead of night, and why? "nightly news" begins now. >> announcer: from nbc news world headquarters in new york,
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this is "nbc nightly news." reporting tonight, lester holt. good evening. there's been yet another violent collision between a commuter train and a vehicle stopped on the traction. this happened just north of los angeles in oxnard, california. the metro link train carrying early-morning l.a.-bound commuters simply couldn't stop in time when a truck wound up in its path. dozens were injured, three critically, and the ntsb is arriving tonight to lead the search for answers after a rash of similar accidents at rail crossings across the country. let's get right to the scene in oxnard now. miguel almaguer is there for us. >> reporter: lester, good evening. the commute into los angeles turned into a fireball on the rails. tonight, wreckage is strewn all over the rails behind me. federal investigators are en route here. they say it's incredible no one was killed. the fiery moments just after impact sent panicked passengers
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scrambling for their lives. >> it was like a bam! boom! >> reporter: this man was aboard the train. >> i definitely thought we could die. >> reporter: investigators say a produce driver 54-year-old jose sanchez ramirez, drove his truck on to the rails just before 6:00 a.m. >> he was taken into custody for a felony hit and run violation. >> that thing just literally was obliterated. >> reporter: with 51 aboard firefighters scrambled to reach the injured. tonight four are in critical condition. >> there's a variety of orthopedic injuries spine fractures, rib fractures, the type of injuries we'd expect from a major trauma incident. >> reporter: powered from the year, the train, which can reach a max speed of 79 miles per hour spotted the pickup truck in the crossing a plying the emergency brakes early, slowing before the explosive impact. metrolink says the passenger cars are equipped with newly
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installed safety features including a crumple-bumper which absorbs collisions. >> we can safely say technology worked, it definitely minimized the impact. >> reporter: this rail crossing is rated one of the most dangerous in all of california. in an intersection known for its accidents, this one could have been much worse. miguel almaguer nbc news oxnard california. this is tom costello. just 13 hours before this morning's crash, a 30-year-old woman was killed in silicon valley when her suv got stuck on the traction in front of an oncoming commuter train traveling at 79 miles per hour. and it was three weeks ago tonight that a packed commuter track in new york slammed into another suv on the tracks. five people killed. nationwide, some 855,000 passengers ride commuter trains every day. 476 million trips each year. but there are also 2,000 accidents at railroad crossings each year. last year alone 239 people were killed. >> it's just a basic fundamental
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rule. don't stop on the track. don't start across the tracks until you're sure you can get all the way across. >> reporter: in chicago, 17-year-old luke wilson was hoping to beat the train to get his 14-year-old sister lauren to school play rehearsal. they never made it. lauren was killed luke suffered serious internal injuries and broken bones. >> luke has never gotten over that crash, neither physically or psychologically. he lives with that as we do every day of our lives. >> reporter: that was in 1994. since that day their father has been on a mission. pushing new railroad crossing systems that use four gates not two, to prevent drivers from illegally going around a gate and tempting fate with a train. it's up to counties and states to determine where they're going to put those four-gate or quad-gate systems at railroad crossings. deployment has been rather slow and the advice remains the same don't ever sit on tracks and
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don't ever try to outrun a train. lester? >> tom costello thanks. now to the winter storm warnings tonight. all the way south to atlanta. more than 20 states nearly coast to coast from idaho all the way to new england felt temperatures at or below zero today. so much of the country covered in ice from this brutal streak of weather. dangerous conditions on the road and all we can do is ask is there any end in sight. here's nbc's gabe gutierrez. >> reporter: the morning commute in north georgia was treacherous. this car out of control, slamming into an emergency vehicle. snow, sleet and freezing rain paralyzed parts of the south, not used to this much winter. >> georgia does have snow. we enjoy it in small amounts. >> reporter: in dallas/ft. worth, a plane skidded off the runway. in tennessee alone, the weather-related death toll now up to 30. in kentucky, the national guard is rushing to deliver bottled water after burst pipes and frigid weather cut off water
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service to more than 40,000 people. even more record-breaking lows. 23 in vermont, minus 21 in concord, new hampshire. and 20 below in glens falls, new york. coast guard cutters are out on maryland's chesapeake bay. and nbc's dillon dryer is on the hudson river. >> the coast guard says this is one of the worst winters they've seen since 2004. they've had to make sure that the shipping lanes stay open for the barges that transport 70% of the northeast's home heating oil. >> reporter: last week this medical facility in philadelphia was covered in ice after firefighters doused it with water. now they've demolished it. in south carolina, football players power through this frigid morning practice. in suburban atlanta, kids enjoyed a snow day, but some parents and teachers were frustrated their school district waited too long to cancel classes. >> it was a bit confusing not to know if they're going to school or not. >> reporter: a winter now keeping much of the country off balance.
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tonight there is still plenty of snow here on the trees in north georgia. they're expecting even more tomorrow, up to five inches. and tonight a new winter storm warning has just been issued for atlanta just to our south. lester? >> gabe, thanks. al roker is braving the freeze out at the mall in washington. al, i feel like in a typical winter we get breaks between this kind of weather. where are those breaks? >> well we're stuck in this one pattern, lester and it's not going anywhere any time soon. we get a little bit of a break today or tomorrow as far as the arctic air. but look at what's happening. we've got another arctic front pushing in ahead of the temperatures slightly cooler. but behind it, anywhere from 20 to 30 degrees below average. the lows by thursday morning from the great lakes to the northeast 10 to 20 degrees below average. highs on thursday only get up into the teens from buffalo to portland. down to cincinnati, into the 20s. you can see winter storm watches, warnings and advisories from texas all the way to the carolinas, including atlanta.
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you can see dallas, rain and snow, winter weather advisories until noon tomorrow as we move to the east, atlanta is going to be under, as gabe mentioned, a winter storm warning for another 2 to 4 inches. as we move to the coast with this system, we're looking for another 4 to 6 inches of snow in raleigh, north carolina, and beyond. we're going to be continuing to see storm after storm after storm, lester. >> al, we'll see you in the morning. thank you. in southern new jersey, the sound could be heard for blocks when a home on a quiet street suddenly exploded. the enormous fireball turning the structure into splinters and injuring at least 15 people. as anne thompson reports, it was all caught on tape. >> reporter: it was sudden and spectacular. police dash cam video capturing a gas explosion that ignited a fire and leveled this stafford, new jersey, home. >> it happened so quickly, the explosion, debris all around us. it comes from nowhere. >> reporter: the incident happened as the new jersey natural gas company crews searched for a reported leak in the neighborhood.
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melissa lewis lives nearby. >> i dropped and covered my daughter. she was standing next to me. and i stood up and then i heard them screaming outside. >> reporter: the blast that could be felt up to a mile away injured 15 people, two critically. 75 homes were evacuated before the blast as workers tried to find the source of the leak. many other houses, some 300 in the area, lost gas service and electricity on a brutally cold day. tonight as residents here wonder when they can go home, investigators are trying to figure out why this house went up in flames. anne thompson, nbc news, new york. now to late word from stephenville, texas, where the jury is about to get the case in the "american sniper" trial. closing arguments are under way, and nbc's jacob rascon is there. >> reporter: the prosecution's final piece of evidence was an apology. in a jail house recording played for the jury, eddie ray routh says, quote, it tore my expletive heart out when i did
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it. i don't know why i did it, but i did it. two weeks of testimony from three dozen witnesses boils down to this. was routh insane or deliberate when he shot chris kyle and chad littlefield at a texas gun range two years ago? a crime scene analyst told the jury today routh waited to strike until his victims had their backs to him and shot them from only feet away saying they especially kyle quote, absolutely never saw this coming. routh has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. his attorneys argue he was psychotic at the time of the shooting. the prosecution arguing he knew his conduct was wrong. kyle's widow taya spoke to al roker at the oscars where the movie inspired by her husband's autobiography "american sniper" about her husband. >> i miss my husband. i want him here. it's been two weeks of -- i'm not supposed to talk about it. but just details that are
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horrific and hard to listen to. but i have faith in the jury. i think they'll come to the right conclusion. >> reporter: closing arguments have now wrapped up. the jury is as we speak, deliberating the case inside the courthouse behind me. they have three options before them. guilty not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. if they don't come to a decision later tonight, the jurors will be sequestered. lester? >> jacob rascon tonight, thank you. word from the justice department tonight that george zimmerman will not face federal charges in the shooting death of trayvon martin during a confrontation back in 2012. zimmerman was later acquitted of second-degree murder and federal prosecutors now say there's not enough evidence to bring civil rights charges which would have required proof zimmerman killed martin because of his race. in a statement trayvon martin's parents said today, quote, although we are disappointed in the government findings, we remain poised to do everything in our power to make sure that senseless violence is
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eradicated and no parent or community has to go through what we've had to endure on a daily basis, end of quote. the secretary of veterans affairs is apologizing for a claim he made about his service record while a camera crew was following him. today he found himself with some explaining to do. pentagon correspondent jim miklaszewski has more for us. >> reporter: v.a. secretary robert mcdonald seeking out homeless veterans on the streets of los angeles. but it's this exchange as aired on cbs last month, that landed him in trouble. >> army navy? >> army. >> army? what unit? >> special forces. >> special forces? what years? i was in special forces. >> reporter: problem is that's not true. mcdonald was never a member of special forces. >> that is wrong and i have no excuse. >> reporter: at a news conference outside the v.a. today mcdonald tried to make it right. >> with your experience your service to the military then and now, how could you possibly say such a thing?
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>> i made a mistake. and i apologize for it. >> reporter: but he still took fire today from combat veterans like senator john mccain. >> it was wrong of him to claim that as part of his resume but i'm much more concerned about his performance as secretary of veterans affairs. >> reporter: a graduate of westpoint, mcdonald went on to special warfare training at ft. bragg and joined the 82nd airborne rangers, not special operations forces. president obama picked mcdonald last year to straighten out the scandal-ridden v.a. hospitals. today the white house stood behind him saying we take him at his word. but on "meet the press" two weeks ago he embellished his record at the v.a. >> we've got 60 people that we fired who manipulated wait times. >> reporter: turns out only 20 were dismissed. all this intense scrutiny follows recent controversies over claims made by brian williams and fox news host bill
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o'reilly about their own war reporting, lester. >> jim miklaszewski at the pentagon tonight, thank you. one more note from washington. as he said he would, president obama today vetoed legislation that would have give the green light to the construction of the keystone xl pipeline from canada to the gulf coast. congressional republicans may try to override the veto but they appear to be just short of a two-thirds of a major in the house and senate they would need. still ahead tonight, a mystery in the sky over paris, on high alert after a series of terror attacks. who is flying drones over major landmarks in the dark of night and why? also buried treasure. we're on the hunt with a guy who has made some incredible finds. sharing his secret to striking gold in very unlikely places.
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there is a mystery tonight in the skies over paris, a city already on high alert after the horrific events there last month. overnight drones were spotted flying over closely guarded sites even though it is illegal to fly them in the city. now the hunt is on for the pile ots behind the controls. we get more from nbc's katy tur. >> reporter: they buzz the city under the cover of darkness. drones flying over some of the most famous and sensitive landmarks in paris. between midnight and 6:00 a.m., at least five small drones, french officials say, and so far they don't know who was flying them, or why.
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the first drone was seen over the u.s. embassy, then the eiffel tower, the louvre, the ba steel, the tower and the interior ministry. authorities aren't yet commenting publicly on their investigation, but given the recent attacks in paris, they're taking the incident very seriously. in fact, security officials well beyond france are concerned about the potential for the threat posed by drones, from parliament all the way to the white house. just last month, a small drone crashed into the white house lawn, an accident it turned out, not a threat. but a reminder that drones are hard to detect, too small to be easily spotted by radar, and hard to stop. >> the main threat they would use is attack -- pack it with explosives, and drive it into something. i think they clearly have that capability, and that would create a shock effect, the terror effect that they really want to seek. >> reporter: today's incident was not france's first run-in with drones. last october they were spotted over more than a dozen of the
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country's nuclear power plants. tonight investigators are looking into whether the people behind that incident could also be behind today's. katy tur, nbc news, london. a lot more to tell you about tonight. we're back in a moment with a big reason to smile tonight for kids all across the country.
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victory quickly turned to chaos last night when the unranked kansas state wildcats beat number eight, the kansas jayhawks. the court looked like a riot scene as students and fans stormed on to it. at one point the jayhawks coach was nearly crushed. police were asking for help identifying unruly fans. kansas state has apologized. and at the high school level, two tennessee girls teams are banned from postseason play amid accusations that they both intentionally tried to lose the game against each other because the loser would be placed in an easier bracket. we're talking about a lot of missed free-throws and moments when it seemed nobody was playing offense or defense.
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alaska today became the third state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. following colorado and washington state. it follows a voter-approved ballot measure last year, adults 21 and older are allowed to have up to an ounce of pot. and up to six plants. the state is still working out the rules for marijuana sales. there is a ban on smoking pot in public. here's something for kids to smile about. it seems the tooth fairy is paying out a lot more these days. a dental industry survey found that kids got an average of $4.36 per tooth last year. that's a rise of 25% from 2013. proof that even magical fairies are beholden to market trends. when we come back, a treasure hunt in the most ub unlikely of places. "nbc nightly news" is brought to you by pacific life. for insurance, annuities and investments, choose pacific life. the power to help you succeed.
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there's no map, no x that marks the spot but there is buried treasure out there ready for the taking. not on a desert island but in your observe city or town.
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you have to go through the occasional banana peel before it heads to the land fill. >> reporter: matt malone ends up in this position almost every night. it's worth it. what's the biggest payload you've ever hit in a dumpster? >> i would say the one that's over here, all these servers. >> reporter: the day we visit? malone's unloading $10,000 worth of computer equipment he discovered down the street. a huge score for this security analyst by day, by night in search of shopping centers and industrial parks, a professional dumpster diver who sells his finds online in austin a city of start-ups where even the trash is high tech. >> i think somebody, if they focused full-time at it, could easily make six figures. >> reporter: so off we go on our nighttime dive to the first dumpster of the evening. malone hops out, checks it out, but it's a bust. >> you never know what you're going to get. you go to a dumpster and it's like wah, wah, wah.
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and the next one, yahoo! >> reporter: better luck at the next stop where malone scores a bunch of industrial lights. a few hundred bucks in just a few minutes. by now it's nearly midnight, but we check one more place. whatever malone sees, tips him over the edge. pay dirt. tasers, hidden cameras, leather watches, all brand-new. you're like a kid in a candy store. >> i am like a kid in a candy store. it's like going shopping but without having to buy anything. >> reporter: back in his warehouse, malone tallies up the haul. nearly nine grand worth of garbage in two hours. >> anybody who's ever went with me one time, including my mother-in-law, were shocked at what we actually really throw away. we are a society of waste, waste, waste, new, new, new. >> reporter: so to him, this isn't trash. >> what's unuseful to somebody is useful to somebody else. >> reporter: -- it's recycling refined. hallie jackson nbc news, austin, texas. that will do it for us on this tuesday night. i'm lester holt. for all of us at nbc news, thank you for watching, and good night.
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right now at 6:00 are you about to be stung? investigators in the south bay will soon have a new hi-tech tracking device. good evening and thanks for joining us. i'm jessica aguirre. >> i'm raj mathai. >> that system offered referred to as a stingray uses cell phone towers to find and follow specific :zhm- users. now the santa clara county sheriff is on board. robert honda is in san t-
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security grant by may in order to pay for the device. several members of the public and a prominent supervisor were$%d not convinced she's done enough to make sure the device isn't used the wrong way. >> lori smith was asking for funds from the board of supervisors for a so-called triangulation system. the device known as stingray and hailstorm utilizes is cell phone towers to zero in on a phone location. sheriff smith pointed out the device has been used mainly in rescues including locating a woman who crashed off a cliff in october last year. >> we could have found her immediately with this. the sheriff's office in charge oftháw search and rescue county wide. i think we'll find more application for that. >> the price tag is about $500,000 for the 42,000ed annual operating cost

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